Saturday, November 2, 2013

Graze Goats to Get Rid of Plants You Don’t Want

AGRICULTURAL CASE STUDY

Graze Goats to Get Rid of Plants You Don’t Want
By Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University

Grazing Goats Case Study Key Points Goats:
eat trees, brush, weeds and other unwanted plants
quickly knock down tall weeds and brush when crowded into a small space
eat up and high, while cattle eat low and down
require good fences

Steve Smith’s goats would rather eat thistles than grass. “I move them around to any place I have plants I don’t want,” the Marshall County farmer says of his small herd of Nubian goats, “and they’re pretty good at cleaning up tall weeds and brush.” “If you want healthy goats, give them some tree branches,” Smith says. “They’ll eat about any tree at any time of year. Their preferences are woody plants first, then taller broadleafs or forbs, then clover, and grass last.”

While his goats will eat about anything, they do want weeds to be at the right stage of growth, Smith says. “They love musk thistle at the right stage, and Canadian thistles at the bloom stage. They also really like multiflora rose, horseweeds, lambsquarter, ragweed, and burdock.”

Goats do very well on weeds, too. Smith says milk production takes a jump when a doe gets to feast on stinging nettles. “But one ate stinging nettles so long she lost her voice,” Smith laughs. 

He says his goats can kill multiflora rose in a season if he’s patient. “The strategy is to move the goats into the weedy or brushy area for a few days, and let them eat all the leaves and small branches off the plants. Then take them out, to let the trees, bushes or weeds recover enough to put new leaves back on, using the plant’s energy to do that. Then you move the goats in again. When you do this several times, you weaken the plant and it will die,” Smith says. “It’s will die over the winter if not during the season.”

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The case study was prepared for the Grass-Based Livestock Working Group, supported by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture,www.leopold.iastate.edu. For related case studies, see the working group's web page.

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